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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4832

Mr IRONS (Swan) (20:30): It is always a pleasure to support a bill such as this one, the Solar Hot Water Rebate Bill 2012 [No. 2], put forward by the member for Flinders, and also to support the workers in my electorate of Swan, where the Rheem factory is. We have just heard the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the member for Isaacs, speaking on the bill. It is encouraging to see someone who talks about raising the standards of parliament spend the first 2½ minutes in invective, diatribe and insults directed at the member for Flinders and also at the opposition! The contradiction I see in his speech is that he says that we have no policy, and that our direct action policy is incorrect, but then goes on to quote the member for Wentworth's policies and laud them. Such a contradiction just amazes me—and I wonder why people refer to him as Rumpole! Now I know why.

Mr Dreyfus interjecting

Mr IRONS: Yes, that's all right, keep it coming. I am happy to relay everything you say back to the workers in the Rheem factories, particularly in my electorate. Then we get the member for Isaacs calling this a stunt. Again, I will relay that back to the workers in the factory: that you think this is a stunt and that their jobs are a stunt—that their jobs are worth nothing. He talks about deceiving and manufacturing crocodile tears; he talks about tawdry clowns. As a parliamentary secretary, how can he bring the level of this place down so low with these insults?

I thank the member for Flinders for his contribution. I know that he understands how important this bill is to my electorate. He joined me on a factory floor visit to the Rheem factory in Welshpool in my electorate of Swan on 7 March to meet some of the hundreds of employees whose jobs have been threatened by this government's actions. It was at this visit that we announced that we would be drawing up this bill. We in the coalition had wanted to debate it before the budget, a move which was blocked by this government; however, in standing here and debating this bill today, we are keeping the promise made on 7 March to the workers on the factory floor in Welshpool to bring this bill to the parliament. This stands in contrast to the Labor government, whose broken promise on the solar hot water rebate has led us to this point today. It has led to the coalition introducing a bill that simply requires the government to stick to the promise it made in the 2010-11 budget.

The workers that the member for Flinders and I met in March on the factory floor were scared for their jobs. They were genuinely concerned for their livelihoods—all because of the Gillard government's actions the week before, with its sudden decision to scrap the hot water rebate scheme despite a commitment in the budget of $24.5 million the previous year for the funding of the scheme. Out of the blue, at one minute to five on 28 February, the notification came through that yet another commitment had been broken by this government. It gave businesses and homeowners only a few hours to submit their applications in order to remain eligible for the subsidy that the government had promised them. But there was no time for families and businesses to fulfil their orders after that guillotine came down. According to the Clean Energy Council, 1,200 manufacturing jobs and 6,000 installation, sales and administration jobs were at risk.

My visit with Greg Hunt was my third visit in recent times to the Rheem Welshpool factory. One of those visits was with the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and I must admit that I was encouraged by the amount of cheer and the welcome he got from the workers on the factory floor. The coalition is a friend of the solar hot water industry in my electorate and across Australia. We spend time talking to the workers and understanding their industry and we will stand up for them in parliament.

I have over 25 years experience as a small businessman myself and speak to businesses all over my electorate on a regular basis. I can say that the decisions of the government and the way it handles its brief are creating almost unprecedented uncertainty in the sector. There has been uncertainty created by the mining tax, uncertainty created by the carbon tax, uncertainty created by the one per cent tax cut to business that was promised at one stage but then denied in the budget. And now there is uncertainty created by the government's scheme management—both for businesses and families in the solar hot water sector who, lest we forget, on 1 July are going to be forced to think of ways to reduce their electricity consumption as a result of the carbon tax. The Gillard government has now taken away the option of solar hot water for them to reduce their emissions and to pay for the carbon tax that they did not vote for.

Without certainty, there can be no confidence. Businesses and families cannot plan with confidence for the future. One of the points that Rheem Welshpool consistently makes to me is how difficult it is to plan effectively when solar policy and government decisions lurch from one extreme to the other. The solar industry is yet another group that has found out the hard way that you cannot take this government at its word, and that even schemes that go into the budget papers in black and white cannot be believed.

During the visit to the factory we joined with the management and the workers to discuss the issues that they faced. Most of them were concerned about their jobs and felt that they and their families had an uncertain future. They were hopeful that with us introducing this bill into parliament they would be back on track and at least know in what direction they were heading. I have been talking to businesses around the electorate and around Australia, because I have contacts in many of those businesses. They feel that currently the government is a train wreck waiting to happen. There is no driver, they do not know which stations it is going to stop at and so they are just waiting to hit that brick wall.

On the other side of the House, you will hear them talk about their closeness to business. Well, I am hearing the opposite from businesses. I am happy to take any of the government members to any of these businesses to have it explained to them—whether they have to wear a bright orange vest or a hard hat, I am happy to take them out to those places and let them hear what the workers have to say. This bill, in essence, simply requires the government to keep the commitment it made in the 2010-11 budget and spend the entire amount which it had budgeted for under the solar hot water rebate. In practical terms, this bill would ensure that businesses could continue to operate as planned and that home owners had fairer access to the rebate. Business owners need to be able to plan for the future with confidence, and the private member's bill seeks to provide them with this certainty in this respect.

The 2012-13 budget papers clearly show that the money which should have been taken from the forward estimates in the 2011 budget is missing in the 2012 budget. In 2011-12 a total of $88 million was promised, with the total spend in the 2012 budget of $43 million indicating a $44.7 million cut. The government had always claimed that their reason for terminating the solar hot water rebate early was because the program was oversubscribed and that they anticipated the funding would be fully expended before its scheduled conclusion. It was amazing to hear the parliamentary secretary saying that the take-up had actually reduced. If the take-up was reducing, their excuse of being oversubscribed just does not gel. The government then promised that the full funding originally allocated for the solar hot water rebate would be retained. However, these figures would suggest otherwise. It would seem from the figures that the government are sacrificing solar jobs for a paper surplus that most commentators doubt will ever be delivered.

As I have mentioned earlier this also meets a commitment that Greg Hunt and I made to the workers on the factory floor at Rheem Welshpool on 7 March, that we would introduce a bill in parliament to force the government to meet their commitments to the people of Welshpool and the people of Australia. We in the coalition attempted to have this bill voted on before the budget, to try to remedy this situation in the fastest possible way and to save as many jobs as possible. However, the government would not have it debated—and shame on them for that. But now, as the parliamentary secretary said he is not going to reinstate the scheme I will take that back to the people and the workers at the Rheem factory in Welshpool in my electorate.

We have, though, persevered and brought this bill to the parliament today. I thank the member for Flinders and other members of the coalition for the support of the workers in my electorate of Swan. I also acknowledge that the success of this bill would have been dependent upon the Independents. I hoped that they could have seen the damage to the industry and to the families caused by the government's decision, and the need to set this right.

More broadly speaking, this episode fits into a pattern of behaviour for the Gillard-Rudd Labor era; a pattern of complete mismanagement of simple schemes that ultimately end in wasted money or diminished confidence. In this case the outcome is at the most serious end of the scale—Australian jobs have been threatened. Again, we heard the parliamentary secretary talk about demand-driven programs. I guess that the pink batts were not demand driven.

There is a certain deja vu as we consider this today as the axing of this rebate is a repeat performance of the sudden closure of the Solar Homes and Communities Plan in 2009 by then Minister Garrett, who also presided over the pink batts debacle and who was later removed from his post. This joins a list of Labor disasters such as the Home Insulation Program, cash for clunkers and Green Loans. In Swan we also remember the Solar Flagships scheme in 2010, when none of the WA projects even made the government's short list, despite eight proposals receiving WA government backing. But the five projects that did get up were from Queensland, and have progressed. The Independents had a choice here to right a wrong and, as the minister said, he will not reinstate the scheme.

As the member for Swan I will continue to support the workers in the factory of Rheem in Welshpool. I am sure that the member for Parramatta, who is just about to speak, takes an interest in the workers in the Rheem factory in Rydalmere as well. I commend the bill to the House.